If you only pay attention to the budget news out of Illinois' capitol, the state legislature seems to be pretty incompetent indeed. The Democratic leadership in control of the state legislature appears to have walked away from the negotiating table with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. The House, under Speaker Michael Madigan, passed a budget with a deficit of almost $4 billion and would like to raise taxes to cover the hole. Governor Bruce Rauner has removed several items from his reform agenda but says he will not accept any tax increase without at least some structural reform and will not sign the imbalanced budget the Democrats have proposed.
Prospects of a government shutdown loom large, and Democrats are still unwilling to consider any of Rauner's proposals to revive the state's economy. This has led the governor to declare this year's spring session "stunningly disappointing."
Still, there are at least a few bright spots in Illinois politics worth remembering if for no other reason than to fight off depression at the dysfunction of Illinois government. Here are some of the best bills that the General Assembly passed this spring, which are awaiting the governor's approval:
- Marijuana decriminalization: House Bill 218 would reduce penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession by making it a civil offense punishable by no more than a $125 fine. The bill would also improve the state's policy on marijuana DUIs to ensure that drivers are not punished unless they were actually impaired while driving, since marijuana stays detectable in a person's system much longer than alcohol. The Department of Corrections has estimated the law will save the state $30 million over 10 years and help relieve pressure on the state's overcrowded prisons. The bill would also allow law enforcement to focus on stopping violent crime rather than locking up nonviolent offenders who pose no threat to society.
- School discipline reform: Senate Bill 100 would severely limit the ability of schools to use "zero-tolerance policies" unless required by law. It would also discourage the use of suspensions and expulsions prior to exhausting other disciplinary options unless the student posed a real threat to either safety or the operations of the school. Unnecessary suspensions and expulsions do much more harm than good, decreasing the chances that a student will finish school and become a productive member of society. This bill will prevent excessive punishments for honest mistakes and help kids stay in school to complete their education.
Check out Reboot Illinois to see three more good-news laws, including policing and business reforms, and updates on a law that would reinstate happy hours at bars in Illinois.
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